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Tahlee is a historic Australian property of 68.8 hectares (170 acres) situated on the north side of Port Stephens near Karuah in New South Wales in the suburb of Tahlee. It is the current location for Tahlee Bible College and the original site of the Australian Agricultural Company.


Earliest inhabitants[edit]

The earliest inhabitants of this area were the Worimi tribe. Tahlee comes from the local Aboriginal word, Tarlee, meaning "sheltered from the wind and above water".[1] Early relationships between the original inhabitants and white settlers were relatively harmonious. In fact, the Australian Agricultural Company would not have succeeded without their help.

European discovery[edit]

Captain James Cook first sighted Port Stephens on 11 May 1777. He named it after Philip Stephens, then Secretary to the Admiralty. Charles Grimes, Surveyor General of the Colony, explored the area in 1795. It was concluded from his unfavourable report that it would never "be necessary to send a second time to it".[2] This report was later criticised when Newcastle Harbour was established.

Australian Agricultural Company[edit]

The Australian Agricultural Company (AA Co) was established in 1824 with a capital of ₤1 million. It was formed with the purpose of producing articles of export not raised in any other English settlement, and other objects of a colonisation character. The British Parliament granted the company 1,000,000 acres (4,047 km2) of land in the colony of New South Wales, under certain conditions.

The company's Sydney committee consisted of Messrs James and Hannibal Macarthur and James Bowman. These representatives were later criticised for their lack of enthusiasm in finding a suitable location to use as the company's base.[3] John Oxley, the Surveyor General of New South Wales, urged the committee to consider the Liverpool Plains, the Lachlan and the head of the Macquarie River. These suggestions were rejected in favour of the coast, where shipping facilities were available. Oxley suggested Port Stephens, which the committee finally accepted when Robert Dawson, the company's first commissioner, arrived in Sydney on 23 December 1825 with stock, plant and equipment for the new settlement.[3] On 1 January 1826 he set out to explore Port Stephens, eventually deciding on the present site of Tahlee and Carrington as a suitable place for his headquarters.[3]

The Sydney committee regularly criticised Mr Dawson's leadership, stating there were too many prisoners onsite with little to do, officers were undisciplined and the public perception of the company was unpopular.[4] Despite this Mr Dawson accomplished a great deal. The boundaries for the 1-million-acre (4,000 km2) site were surveyed and defined and a site for cultivation was chosen near the Karuah River. That site is now the township of Stroud.

William Edward Parry

Dawson also began work on Tahlee House, the home of the AA Co's first four commissioners. At Port Stephens, a site was chosen for a township, which Mr Dawson renamed Carrington.[5] The Newcastle suburb of the same name is named after his grandson, Lord Carrington, who became Governor of New South Wales.[6] Robert Dawson led the AA Co until 1828 when the committee replaced him with his assistant, Mr. James Ebsworth, in an interim capacity.

Sir William Edward Parry, the Arctic explorer and hydrographer, became the next commissioner of the AA Co in 1829 and arrived at Tahlee in March 1830.[7] His five-year tenure was marked by progress and social reformation. Under his direction, Booral House, Stroud House and Telegherry House were constructed, along with a flour mill at Stroud and a dam on the Karuah River, now known as Washpool. He also personally oversaw the construction of a steamship named "The Karuah."

Parry was a devout Christian. When he discovered that the settlement lacked a church, he conducted his own Sunday service in the carpenter's shop at Carrington. In 1833 he constructed St John's church in Stroud and laid the cornerstone himself. Lady Parry opened a school and provided for the education of nearly 50 children. An adult school was also commissioned for the prisoners who wished to learn how to read and write.

Lt-Colonel Henry Dumaresq, who had been Governor Darling's assistant, became the next commissioner in 1834. He served until his death in 1838, when Mr James Ebsworth took over again as interim commissioner. Mr Ebsworth opposed a proposal by the company's English directors to subdivide the land into small parcels. Port Stephens would be a different place today if the plan had succeeded.

Phillip Parker King

Captain Phillip Parker King was the final AA Co commissioner to live in Tahlee House. By then, the Company's directors had realised the land was unsuitable for grazing and chose to the relocate its headquarters to Stroud. The Australian Agricultural Company’s chapter of Tahlee’s history closed with the end of his appointment in 1849.

After the Australian Agricultural Company[edit]

Mr Frederick Manton, from Sydney, purchased the Tahlee property from the AA Co in 1854 for ₤2,500. However, the house burned down in 1860, leaving only the walls.

The White era[edit]

In 1880 Robert Hoddle Driberg White discovered he had come into a fortune when his grandmother left him considerable property in Melbourne, however, the matter had been kept a secret from him for 13 years. The subsequent court case brought him enormous wealth and notoriety. On returning to Port Stephens, Mr White was invited to stand for Parliament and was elected for the seat of Gloucester. It was during this time that he purchased Tahlee for ₤850.

Considerable development took place during this period. Improvements and extensions were added to Tahlee House. A billiard room and ballroom were constructed with marble for some of the fireplaces in these buildings imported from Italy. Twelve full-time gardeners were employed to maintain a number of terraced gardens. Mr White was well known for bringing guests from Sydney on his steam yacht, "Kingfisher." A horse-drawn tram would then transport them to their rooms from the harbour below the house.

On his death, the estate was held in trust for his widow and then passed to their son, Alfrey Beecher Stewart White, who lived primarily in Sydney. He used Tahlee House as a country retreat.

The Gospel Fishermen[edit]

In 1943 the Gospel Fishermen Mission leased Tanilba House, which is 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) across Port Stephens from Tahlee. The Director, Godrey Theobald, had developed a three pronged approach to mission.

  • Evangelists travelling in 'Gospel Vans' visited isolated districts.
  • Large meetings were held in churches in Newcastle and the Hunter Region.
  • Children's camps were held at Tanilba for the purpose of evangelism.

In 1948, the staff of Gospel Fishermen visited Tahlee for a picnic. Over the next year, applications were forwarded to Mr White to rent the property to the mission. In June 1949, the Theobold family moved into the Waterfront Cottage and began using the ballroom and billiard room at Tahlee. In 1951, the ministry established a missionary training camp under the supervision of Mr Frank Biggs.

Mr White continued to visit Tahlee House. In 1959, he offered the property to the Mission, who accepted after a large donation made it possible for the purchase to take place.

Tahlee Bible College[edit]

Rev Eric Potter, a Methodist minister, was the first Principal of Tahlee Bible College and Godfrey Theobald held the position of the first College President. Lectures commenced on 10 June 1959, while the public opening held on 31 October 1959 attracted 400 people. More than 1,000 students have trained at the college and many of these are now in Christian service in Australia and in countries all over the world. Extensive renovations have been carried out on the property. Management has concentrated on running camps and events for children, young people and families. Tours of the historic buildings are regularly held.


  1. ^ "Hunter Valley Place Names and their Meanings (T)". Newcastle City Council. 2007-02-15. Retrieved 2008-06-22. 
  2. ^ Parry, William Edward, Sir. Early Days of Port Stephens: Extracts from Sir Edward Parry’s diary (Dungog: Dungog Chronicle; between 1940 and 1960), p3
  3. ^ a b c Parry, William Edward, Sir. Early Days of Port Stephens: Extracts from Sir Edward Parry’s diary (Dungog: Dungog Chronicle; between 1940 and 1960), p5
  4. ^ Parry, William Edward, Sir. Early Days of Port Stephens: Extracts from Sir Edward Parry’s diary (Dungog: Dungog Chronicle; between 1940 and 1960), p6
  5. ^ "Hunter Valley Place Names and their Meanings (C)". Newcastle City Council. 2007-02-15. Retrieved 2008-06-22.  (see "Carribeeen")
  6. ^ "Hunter Valley Place Names and their Meanings (C)". Newcastle City Council. 2007-02-15. Retrieved 2008-06-22.  (see "Carrington")
  7. ^ Parry, Edward. Memoirs of Rear-Admiral Sir WE Parry (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans and Roberts; 1857)
  • Bairstow, Damaris A Million Pounds, A Million acres Self-published 2003
  • Stanbury, Betty Today's News Article (Tahlee Bible College 40) 1999
  • Theobold, Carolyn R A Place Called Tahlee. Tahlee Ministries Inc. 2004
  • Theobold, Godrey What God has Wrought. Gospel Service Mission 1961
  • Wilson, Keith Only one Earth life. Mission Publication of Australia 1991
  • Wilson, Robert. The Book of Australia LANSDOWNE PRESS 1980

External links[edit]